Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Say cheese; iPhone app takes food pictures and counts calories

When you crave a burger you crave a burger. And sometimes not knowing exactly how many calories are in it can be a good thing. But a new iPhone app is about to put an end to all that. It guesses the calories of your meal by taking a picture of it and compares it to a database of about 100,000 foods, counting up the total and delivering the bad news directly to your phone. Yikes.

The app has been developed by Japan's NTT Communications - who else. Strangely while the Japanese are pretty nifty at technology they are also passionate about food. When I lived in Tokyo this came as a big surprise, in addition to the fact that Japanese food is heaven, and not confined to sushi and noodles. Sadly, it was also when I lived in Japan in the late nineties that Japanese girls first adopted the English word "diet". Up to that point there was no Japanese equivalent. The popularity of fast food had led to the idea of weight loss and predictably soon, being super thin became a fashion just like in Europe and the West.

So it's no surprise the app came out of Japan. It seems that all you have to do is point your phone at your plate, shoot and the app compares the food image with it's database. Currently the app is heavy on ramen and Japanese food but they're working to expand the database for food eaten accross the world. Of course they are - can you imagine how popular this is going to be? Expect every 10 year old plus girl in a MacDonald's, grimly photographing her food before she eats a quarter of it and leaves.

We know what basic food choices are bad for us so I'm conflicted on whether the development of this app is a good thing or really damaging to how we eat. At the same time, where people are trying to loose weight or face serious obesity problems, perhaps knowing the calorie count of their food is no bad thing.

The app also offers potential to link to social networks while you're counting calories, and possibly get support for your dieting. On the down side, there's nothing like a few negative responses from Facebook on your eating habits to probably throw users into a stress attack of eating even more junk food, after all, eating bad food is very often emotion related. But online support groups for dieting aren't anything new and don't need an iPhone app to make them function. Many groups offer users support and ideas for exercise plans, alternative food choices and a place to have a bit of a moan or to celebrate your success.
On twitter there are Irish followers using #twiet as a hashtag group to communicate their weight loss adventures, many of these are also food lovers and foodies and anything which connects people with common interests is surely a positive thing. Check out #irishfoodies on twitter and myself at @campbellsuz for continual food news and support for Irish food producers, restaurants and eating. Yes - actual eating, lots of it, rates pretty highly in my book. I won't be getting the new app. I think I know what's in most of what I eat, and when I don't want to know, I don't want to know.

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